Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Good afternoon. Well, we're all set for the conference finals, and I'd imagine a lot of folks are like me ... can't wait for tonight's Seattle-Phoenix tipoff. I will promise to try not to have any 15-minute answers on today's chat. I did say "try." :)
Erin Hengesbach (Portland, MI)
Why is the first round and second round of the playoffs only three games long? It seems like it would make for a more competitive series when it goes five games like in the finals.
Mechelle Voepel (2:06 PM)
Part of the league's growth, like some other things. I think I would enjoy best-of-five in conference finals and best-of-seven finals. But at the same time, there are the time considerations, cost of travel, television windows ... all of that. For now, this isn't too bad. Hope for more in future. Including more ESPN2 televised games. :)
The Phoenix Mercury's offensive firepower is credited for its success, but how would you rate their defenive abilities?
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
I find it interesting that Phoenix gets pretty much savaged by a lot of fans and some media for giving up too much on defense. The feeling is they could play their offensive style but clamp down more defensively. I would say that individually, many of the players on Phoenix have shown they are good defenders ... others not so much. Ultimately, Corey Gaines has spent a lot of years playing and teaching the game the way he coaches, and the Merc does have 2 titles under that system. Enough waffling? I have to admit, I love offense. :)
Indiana: Championships define greatness and the championship window is only open for a short period of time. Do they retool or just tweak?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
I think they are going to just tweak. They recently resigned Tammy Sutton-Brown, who has her pluses and minuses. For the Fever's sake, I'd still like to see them get more out of the center position. But I also have to wonder about guard. Can Tully Bevilaqua play another season? Can Briann January become a better oncourt leader and manage a game better? I'm not talking about her reaching Bird level in that regard ... just doing a better job of being in charge on the floor. Those are the two areas I think the Fever needs to see some improvement on, either from within or without.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
What players, past or present, would you single out as the best shooters, in terms of form, mechanics, and speed of release?
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
Hard to argue with Taurasi and Pondexter right now being at the top of that list of current players, I think. I do want to give a nod to Becky Hammon - not the fastest player, we all know, but her quick release and repeatable shooting motion set her apart from a lot of other players whose game might *look* a lot like hers, but who can't survive in the WNBA. As for best-ever in the WNBA, I'd probably go with Cynthia Cooper. And while her career sadly was cut so short, Jackie Stiles had amazing release and mechanics. But her body just broke down.
After the Mystics season ended Katie Smith mentioned leaving all her options open, including retirement (no surprise) and playing for another team. Were you surprised at all by that second part?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Not necessarily. I saw her last January at a college game, and when she said she definitely wasn't going to Tulsa, I figured she *had* to be going to the Mystics. It just made sense for a lot of reasons. However, she didn't commit to that then, was pretty vague about where she wanted to go except someplace she thought could win. So I think maybe she's just keeping options open because that's how she's most comfortable. Even at 36 - she'll be 37 next June - Smith is a big aid to the Mystics. Not as the big-time scorer, but as someone who still does all the "dirty" work and sets a good example. If Alana Beard re-integrates well and the Mystics find perhaps a little better solution at center, they could be really good next season. They were really pretty good this season, of course.
Forget MVP - every female player in the world is fully healthy and lined up against the wall for you to pick teams right now: who's your top five, and in what order?
Mechelle Voepel (2:28 PM)
I'm picking a team, right? Not just five great players regardless of position? Ok, off the top of my head: Lauren Jackson, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Cappie Pondexter, Maya Moore. And, yes, I'm going to have Taurasi play point guard on this team. Unless you can *please* allow me to have seven players ... oh thank you, you will? Great! ... and Sue Bird and Tamika Catchings are immediately grabbed to join them.
Clearly scheduling the Eastern Conference playoffs has been challenging - how might it impact the Dream on the court and off (as in building fan momentum)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
Yes, the Dream has been twiddling their thumbs for a while now, haven't they? It's unfortunate that the East can't start until Sunday, but such is life when you're the WNBA and dealing with facilities like MSG that are full of big events constantly. Several questions in the chat today about the Dream. Because it's a pretty young team, they really didn't need as much "rest" as they've gotten. But I think they will handle this well. The bigger issue, as you point out, is that the fans have been waiting a *long* time now between games. Will there be a lot of energy in their building for Game 2?
kevin (macon ga)
How would you compare Delisha Milton skipping the handshake line against Seattle to LeBron James doing the same against the Magic last year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
Forgive a probably convoluted answer, but it won't take 15 minutes. Maybe 10. I think players kind of draw unnecessary negative attention to themselves when they do this. Certainly in LeBron's case, since he's pretty much the self-proclaimed king of the galaxy, I doubt he cares. In DeLisha's case, she probably does care. I don't think she wants to ever be seen as some kind of bad sport. All that said, I'm not that concerned about the handshake line in pro sports. I know it's for goodwill and to set a good example for the kiddos. But it's more important to me for amateur players to do it, to develop character and realize you have to be mature even when you lose. Even if you'd really like to punch the other team, you bite your lip and be a good "sport." But those lessons are either learned or never going to be learned by the time someone is in the professional ranks. And I don't really care if pros like each other, you know? If DMJ was ticked off at the Storm, well ... her job is to beat the Storm, not to be friendly to them. There's also the point to be made that not all pro sports have this practice. Major League Baseball, for example, doesn't have postgame handshakes between foes. So ... do I think DMJ is better off to just go through the ritual, just because of how it looks "bad" to skip it? Yes. But did I think it was a big deal that she skipped it? Nah.
Kara Braxton or Svetlana Abrosimova..which is the most important player off the bench in the WC Finals?
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
I think Abrosimova ... her play has been important all year to the Storm. Braxton has the potential to be an impact player for the Mercury, but I don't know that they necessarily have to get an impact from her to win. But the fact is, I started to answer this question the other way, which tells you how unsure I am of the answer.
Glenn (Fresh Medows, NY)
Mechelle, I wouldn't be a REAL Liberty fan without asking a question like this: Taj is 40, despite a great pinch hitting role Vaughn is a HUGE question mark, Mitchell is Hot and Cold, Donavan is going to South Orange in 2 weeks, the team hasn't renewed STH because the arena is up in the air and likely will be moving to NJ, we know the libs are a 500 team when it's Cappie and Cappie alone (thank you first half!) is this playoffs a one shot win the title now for the Liberty?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
Yes, Glenn, that is the way a real Liberty fan would see this - warts and all. But I don't see this as one-shot and then it's off to the Jersey swamps (whenever that's finally announced) and oblivion. Here's why: Cappie is going to be an outstanding player for many years to come. And even though I think NY fans have every reason to have zero confidence in the front office _ or maybe sub-zero _ how hard should it be to hire a coach when you give her or him Cappie to work with? And should it be that difficult to make a few good moves to help in terms of filling future holes? Then again, what am I saying, right? I'm talking about the Liberty. Pray very hard for the title this year, Glenn. Nah, Just kidding. :)
While watching last night's game, did you feel the officiating affected the outcome? I know Fever fans thought Catchings was fouled on the last two plays. But Liberty fans point to the foul shot differential and several no calls on drives by Pondexter.I am one that believes a foul is a foul, and it should not matter how much time is left in a game. But a physical game like the one last night also is an example of how hard it is to officiate.
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
I think officiating is hard, and I also think being a fan is hard. :) It's nearly impossible for fans to not feel their team is getting hosed by the officials. It's not that they don't WANT to see it objectively, it's that it's so HARD to do when you care so much who wins. Not to mention, there are so many split-second judgment calls that I honestly think could go either way much of the time. Ultimately, I didn't think the officials impacted last night's game more for one team than for the other.
Steven (New York)
Nicole Powell played a major part in Sacramento's championship run a few years back, and while it is always nice to have her as a part of a teams arsenal, thus far in the playoffs her contributions seem to be shaky at best, while I am not sure of her defensive prowess, she seems at this point in time to be more of a liability than a consistent contributer on court. At the same time Essence Carson has stepped her game as of late and even when her shot is off is able to make plays to take some of the pressure off Cappie and to find open looks to Taj. Not to mention she has been part of the starting rotation for most of her two years. I understand the initial thinking of having Nicole out there, but would recent game play not dictate to reinsert Essence over Nicole to start the rest of the playoffs or does the Liberty matchup better against the dream with Powell in
Mechelle Voepel (2:58 PM)
Probably a lot of folks are wondering about that, since Essence Carson had one of the best bench-player performances in recent playoff history, in my memory. But there is always the chemistry factor, and do you want to shake up the starting lineup that way. Does it help or hurt? Interestingly enough, of course, the Atlanta Dream DID make a significant change to the starting lineup in their series against Washington. And it worked extremely well. But it takes some guts to make that move, since you can't always be sure how it will turn out, and it leaves you open to second-guessing. At this point, I'd guess Carson will still come off the bench and won't care, as long as she's getting lots of minutes. But that's just my guess.
My maths says that unless she got a huge number of second-place votes, Cappie Pondexter was outside the top-three of several voters for MVP. Isn't that something of a surprise since most of the debate around the award focussed on it being a three-player race?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
That would surprise me, too. There have been a few questions about MVP and other awards ... just to be clear, the media votes do have to be turned in the morning after the regular season is over. So playoffs do not factor into the voting. I voted 1. Jackson, 2. Pondexter, 3. Catchings. It was hard to not pick Cappie as No. 1, but LJ was so good all season I just had to go with her. But Cappie has been awesome, too.
So Lyman Orchards in CT has made a corn maze of Geno and one of Jonathan the Husky. Are we ever going to see a Pat corn maze?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
Well, now that the challenge has been thrown out ... maybe so. But I'm certainly hoping that if some intrepid Tennessee farmer so honors Pat, he/she will also pay homage to Smokey. Because if Jonathan gets a corn maze, Smokey certainly deserves one, too.
After last night, will Geno be given a break about the Olympic committee having Vaughn in the pool of players?
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
OK, we'll go back to this. I don't care that USA Basketball brought in Vaughn, Appel, Brunson and Hoffman. That's fine. It's that they left out Langhorne. You've got 24 people invited (again, with 3 who can't play due to injuries). Why leave out Langhorne? I'm not saying she would have made the WC team. But she sure sticks out like a sore thumb when you invite half the league (OK, I'm exaggerating) and leave out a player who has become that strong a rebounder and post presence. I'll say it again: Why NOT have her at least in the camp? For the future, if nothing else. As for Vaughn ... to what do we give more weight: last night, or the entire rest of her season? Let's hope she's turned a corner for her sake and for the Liberty's. No one doubts she has talent.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
In the game last night, Tully Bevilaqua and Briann January had a difference in the +/- statistic of 19 points. Given how well the Fever played with Tully and how bad they played with January, what in the world was Dunn thinking relying on January at the end of the game???
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
I think January's athleticism and potential can be pretty alluring to a coach. Dunn sees January as the future, and it's probably tempting to keep giving her the reigns and hoping she does well with them. Sometimes she has. But in general, in this series against New York, she was not very good at running the team.
Jono (Atlanta, GA)
Now that LA gave up on the Maya Moore Sweepstakes by actually contending for the playoffs, who do you suppose LA will pick in the first round next year? or am I way too early for you at this time?
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
Honestly, a little too early. Because there are some important things to be decided by the Sparks, since they had three 35-year-old players, their superstar was hurt all season and a valued veteran was hurt, too. Will Tina Thompson and Ticha Penicheiro come back? Will Candace Parker be 100 percent for next summer? How about Betty Lennox? All of those things will impact LA's draft day decisions. And if this is the Jono who is a fan of "Dracula's Daughter" ... you rock. :) If not, sorry. Um, you still rock.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Better movie, in terms of camp value and quotes: Spaceballs or Clue?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
Can you believe I haven't seen either one? I hope your opinion of me doesn't plummet too much. Now I have to rent them out when the season ends. I've spent too much time in my life watching crap horror movies. Too late to change that. :)
kevin (macon ga)
Who wins, Atlanta or New York?
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
All right. Predictions. Sigh. I'm so bad at this. Atlanta vs. Seattle in the finals. I say that because the Dream team I saw in the first round was the team I saw at its best during the regular season. And when Atlanta plays to its capabilities, I think - emphasis on "think" - they are the East's best. Even as a No. 4 seed. And I don't see anyone beating Seattle twice in Key Arena. OK ... now everybody get ready for that New York-Phoenix finals series. :)
Why aren't all WNBA games broadcast on NBA TV? Is it not in the best interests of the NBA to promote its own product to the fullest extenet possible?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
People tend to ask me a lot of TV questions, and I have to say that television's processes are not always very sensible to me. Yes, I would think there would be a whole lot more of the WNBA on NBA TV during the NBA's off-season ... but I'm saying that as someone who obviously loves to watch women's basketball. Ultimately, these are business decisions that I think often are made by folks a little afraid to take some chances and build a different audience. But as a writer, not a TV exec, I am not an expert in the field of how they choose their programming and why.
Ryan (Princeton, NJ)
On a team of Lauren Jackson, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Diana Taurasi, and Cappie Pondexter, why would you have Taurasi play the point? With a shooter like Taurasi wouldn't you rather have her play off the ball, especially with Cappie's ability to create open 3-pointers with her drives?
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
I just like the ball in Taurasi's hands, and I think she would be good in that role on that team. But I can see your point. Like I said, I like my seven-player team better. :) I'll take Sue Bird in the driver's seat and just watch them go off to the races.
But my question was about Vaughn, not Langhorne. Langhorne definitely deserved to be in USA camp, but Vaughn was brought in on potential, and she showed some of it last night.
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
I don't want to beat this to death ... oh, sure I do. :) I don't think there would have been any "grief" for USA Basketball or Geno about bringing in Vaughn or any of the others if Langhorne wasn't left out. They were getting criticized in comparison to CL being ignored. That's why I was criticizing them. And I'm all for giving Vaughn props for last night. But she's been inconsistent to say the least going back to her senior season at Rutgers. Like I said, I hope with this game she turned a corner.
Can the Storm be beaten at home and what do the Phoenix Mercury need to do to make that happen?
Mechelle Voepel (3:35 PM)
Can the Storm be beaten once at home? Maybe. Twice in a series? I doubt it. Gaining the home-court advantage was a big deal for the Storm, obviously. Look, we all know the Mercury has been a mystery this season. They are a terrific team. I think they should challenge the Storm. But I don't see them winning twice in this series in Seattle.
What do the Mercury need to do to beat Seattle at home tonight?
Mechelle Voepel (3:40 PM)
Sort of to follow up on that ... the problem for Phoenix is that it's so hard to find a weak spot to attack. Bird doesn't have "bad" games. Neither does Lauren Jackson. So you have to find the other spots to attack, and this season, there haven't been many. Swin Cash at times can still totally take over games. Tanisha Wright is destined to be overshadowed but no one who watches Seattle undervalues her. And Camille Little is as hungry as any player in the league to win. The Mercury tend to not change much no matter who they play - they win as themselves. Since that hasn't happened in five meetings this season, you wonder what differently the Merc can do. We will find out.
Who are Ripley's picks for the conference finals? I hope her recovery continues to go well.
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
Thank you. :) Ripley, my recovering pup, did better with her predictions in the women's NCAA tournament this past season than I did. She correctly picked Gonzaga over Texas A-M as an example. She favors, not surprisingly, teams with dog mascots. So she is picking the Liberty to win the WNBA title because she loves Maddie. Ripley is quick to add, though, that she does not claim this is an "expert" opinion.
Melissa (Ridgefield, NJ)
Who do you think is the x-factor for each team in the NY vs. ATL series?
Mechelle Voepel (3:47 PM)
I think maybe it's going to be both team's benches ... in part because the reserves have played such a big role so far, either in an expanded reserve role or moving into the starting lineup.
Mechelle Voepel (3:49 PM)
Well, we have killed at least some of our time while everyone watches the clock counting down to the Storm-Mercury game tonight. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon/evening waiting for tipoff! Thanks for all the questions!